In Galus to Madison Avenue

The key to American commerce is marketing and advertising.
The shorthand term for marketing is Madison Avenue. It is the locus of the industry that develops marketing schemes for newspapers, radio and television — all media including the internet.

The goal of Madison Avenue is not only to extol one brand of a product over another. It is far more insidious. It is to create in the mind of the consumer the fundamental need for the product. In the language of the Torah it is to create taavah.

Thus if not for Madison Avenue, you would never have thought that you needed designer accessories or a zoodle machine. Marketing takes desire to unprecedented heights. On a daily basis we are inundated with messages, whose sole purpose is to whet our appetites.

What has all this to do with galus? The hallmark of galus is our enslavement to foreign powers that deprive us of the ability to serve Hashem. On Tishah B’Av we mourn the loss of our freedom to serve Him, and pray for the coming of Moshiach, and the Geulah, when we will be restored to be servants of Hashem, rather than serfs to a foreign power.

What follows is intended to be a frank discussion of how the frum world has lost its bearings and has become enslaved to Jewish Madison Avenue. I will spare no words and will point to how this has taken place with the complicity of the frum media, including the publication in which this article appears.

Far be it for me to minimize the vital role that Hamodia plays in the preservation of the sanctity of the Jewish home. It is precisely because of this that the editorial and advertising content that they agree to include (or are compelled to include for a culmination of different factors) carries so much weight.

Consider, for example, the food industry. In the not too distant past if we needed to buy food we went to a grocery store and purchased what was on our list. Grocery stores were modest establishments whose shelves reflected staples. No more. Look around Boro Park and Flatbush. Almost without exception, every modest grocery store, invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in remodeling, so that they became food boutiques, or “temples of food.”

The purpose is to have the buyer enticed by the beauty of the display to buy a product that they don’t need. The display creates the appetite. And to get the buyer in the store the media (kosher of course) displays steaks that are two inches thick, ice cream with untold variety of flavors, over 100 types of nosh (with enough sugar to turn children into addicts) — the list is endless.

We have become a nation of gluttons. The shulchan that was to serve as a mizbei’ach, has been defiled. Instead it now showcases our obsession with food. Admittedly, much of this has been driven by the non-Jewish media, but the frum media has now become an organ that brings the message of unbridled desire into our homes on a daily basis. By virtue of its respectability, it even provides the hechsher of gross materialism.

Yet, it is not my intent to kill the messenger. All of us, myself included, have succumbed to some extent to the lure of materialism, when we buy luxury automobiles, Italian furniture, extravagant summer homes (not bungalows), high-end decorator kitchens, custom shtreimels, sheitels, designer clothes (for men and women), and any other expensive consumer good that you can imagine.

The Baal Shem Tov hakadosh said that a person exists where his machshavah is. If our minds and hearts are preoccupied by Jewish Madison Avenue, we are truly in galus to a foreign power.

On a related note, the frum Jewish media bears some responsibility for our loss of sensitivity, as reflected in pictures, news reports, and advertisements. Ten years ago if one were to publish a picture of a family sitting shivah, readers would have reacted with a sense of revulsion. Today, if a nichum aveilim call is made by a public figure, it becomes a media event. It is one thing to report on such a visit, but is it fair to the aveilim to be displayed to a public that does not know them? At a recent levayah of a Jewish leader, I witnessed a Jewish media photographer who pushed his way into the crowd in order to get a picture of the aveilim standing next to the aron.

Even a newspaper like Hamodia, which distinguishes itself in avoiding sensationalism in most cases, sometimes succumbs to popular demand. We have lost all sense of propriety when we expect newspapers to expose private matters to the public.

Another phenomenon that I find disturbing is what seems to me to be the exploitation of Gedolei Yisroel by various organizations. Brochures depicting Gedolei Torah all in one place at one time, are for the most part not true and are a desecration of kvod haTorah. And even if true, the marketing is cheap and offensive, l’havdil, reminiscent of sports super stars huckstering sports equipment.

We are in galus where we no longer think like Jews, and where we are enslaved to a pleasure-seeking culture, and to one that has lost all sense of propriety. Al Aileh ani bochiah.